Why Delta Took On The Boeing 737

The Boeing 737 has been an integral member of Delta Air Line’s fleet since 1983. The Atlanta-based carrier has acquired various models of the narrowbody over the years. Let’s take a look at why the operator took the type on in the first place.

Delta 737-800
The Boeing 737 continues to be a mainstay in Delta Air Lines’ fleet after nearly four decades. Photo: Getty Images

A need for change

During the early 1980s, like many other airlines in the United States, Delta was feeling the effects of the economic recession and airline deregulation. Above all, competition was rife, and several operators were finding it had to stand out. Therefore, according to the Delta Flight Museum, the carrier was looking to resize its fleet to add efficient, smaller jets to compete well in the domestic market.

Altogether, the airline agreed with Boeing to trade 11 aged Lockheed L-1011 Tristars for 33 Boeing 737-232s over a period of two years. Boeing subsequently acquired TriStars and leased 737s to Delta. At the time, this move was seen to be one of the largest deals of its kind.

The model 232 is a short-range, twin-jet plane. Out of its main hubs such as Atlanta, Boston, Cincinnati, and Dallas/Fort Worth, it was able to rival local carriers while expanding on short and medium-haul routes. Moreover, passengers benefitted from the provision of an increase in nonstop service in smaller airports.

New features

The 737-232 could carry 33% more payload and had double the range of the -100. It was also six feet longer than its predecessor.

Delta was also looking forward to putting the plane’s improved technology to good use. For instance, it could take off more easily on very short runways. It also had new digital equipment to reduce fuel burn, and its two Pratt & Whitney JT8D-15A engines provided improved fuel-efficiency.

Delta’s fleet was modernized with the help of these -232 arrivals. These jets were fitted with a new “advanced-technology interior design” that Boeing introduced with its 757. For example, lighter materials assisted in the reduction of maintenance costs. Meanwhile, there was more space in the cabin with flatter ceilings and sleeker overhead storage.

Delta 737-200
Delta Air Lines’ 737-232 could seat 107 passengers, had a range of 1,680 statute miles, and could reach speeds of 490 mph. Photo: Richard Silagi via Wikimedia Commons

Getting the ball rolling

Ultimately, Delta received its first unit in October 1983 and introduced it on December 1st of that year. The first flight was a trip from Dallas/Fort Worth to Atlanta via Memphis. Just six days later, the 1,000th 737 produced by Boeing was delivered to Delta in the form of fleet number Ship 306.

In 1999, Delta acquired its first 737-800 unit. These jets seated 154 passengers in a 2-class configuration. Moreover, they were backed by two CFM56-7B engines. A new wing design also enabled the plane to reach higher cruising speeds than earlier 737 models.

Meanwhile, passengers could take advantage of more space in the overhead bins. Additionally, those in business class were treated to redesigned seats with footrests.

According to the Delta Flight Museum, former Delta Managing Director-Latin America, Rudi Forster said the following about Delta’s 737-800.

“We ordered the new Boeing 737-800 with Central America routes in mind…The use of a brand-new aircraft in Latin America underlines Delta’s strong commitment to success in the market. The Boeing 737-800 is the perfect aircraft for shorter international flights, such as Delta’s flight from Atlanta to Guatemala City.” 

In 1996, Delta launched a low-cost outfit called Delta Express. The 737-200 would be the glue that held the subsidiary together before its discontinuation in the early 2000s with the emergence of Song.

The whole of Delta Express’ fleet was filled with 737-200 narrowbodies. These planes were configured with one-class cabins, and they operated 14 leisure markets between the Northeast of the US and Florida. Following the closure of the brand, Delta flew them as part of its core services.

Delta Express 737
No inflight entertainment services or cuisine was available to passengers flying on Delta Express’ Boeing 737-200 aircraft. Photo: Aero Icarus via Wikimedia Commons

Further additions

The 737-800 is still a prominent member of the carrier’s fleet. However, in 2006, the company was operating under bankruptcy protection. Therefore, started to ramp-up international schedules at the expense of some domestic flights. With this transition, it sought to sell 38 -800s that were on order and take on other Boeing models, such as the 737-700.

The -700 is smaller than the -800, arriving with 124 seats on board when ten units joined Delta in August 2008. However, they were useful in serving smaller and developing market segments. They subsequently replaced the older MD-80 jets in the firm’s holdings.

The Delta Flight Museum shares that former Delta Managing Director of Fleet Planning and Acquisition, Mel Fauscett, said the following about the -700 deliveries:

“The 737-700 is a better fit for the current needs of our network, providing flexibility in our fleet to fly longer, thinner domestic routes while at the same time supporting our international expansion to Latin America and the Caribbean.”

Delta Getty 737-700
Delta Air Lines was excited about getting its hands on the 737-700, but the variant is set to be leaving 12 years later. Photo: Getty Images

The airline also began taking on the first of its 100 737-900ERs in September 2013. This model was acquired to handle long-haul domestic flights and replace less fuel-efficient fleet members such as its older Airbus A320s, Boeing 757s, and 767s.

Delta 737-900ER Cabin
The main cabin seats seats in the emergency exit rows inside a Delta Air Lines Boeing 737-900ER jet. Photo: Delta Flight Museum

The story is not over

According to Planespotters.net, Delta today holds 208 Boeing 737s in total. However, this summer, Delta shared that it plans to retire its remaining 737-700 by the end of the year. Nonetheless, it’s unlikely that the carrier will be phasing out the type as whole in the near future.

Altogether, Delta has flown several variants of the Boeing 737 over the decades. The narrowbody’s effectiveness on short and medium-distances across North America has undoubtedly made it a key asset for the company.

What are your thoughts about Delta Air Lines’ Boeing 737 aircraft? Let us know if your experiences of flying on the jet over the years. Share what you think of the type in the comment section.